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Central America declared landmine-free

Associated Press / June 23, 2010

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GENEVA — Nicaragua has become the last country in Central America to clear its territory of antipersonnel mines, government officials said yesterday.

Nicaragua removed and destroyed its last antipersonnel mine on April 13, the country’s Ministry of Defense said.

An announcement by Nicaragua’s president was conveyed to a meeting of signatories to the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which requires states to destroy land mines in their territory.

Most of the antipersonnel mines in Nicaragua were left over from the civil war that ended in 1989, according to the Geneva-based UN office, which oversees the treaty.

Nicaragua took 21 years to get rid of the mines because it had to raise funds, get special equipment, and locate the weapons in the ground, said Colonel Spiro Bassi, the chief of the army’s engineer corps.

“There was no registry with all the mines in Nicaragua,’’ Bassi said.

Finding mines laid by rebel groups was especially difficult, and many of the mines were in mountainous areas difficult to access, he said.

“Natural disasters and impacts of hurricanes, such as Mitch, delayed the process,’’ he said. Hurricane Mitch was a sluggish storm that stalled for a week over Central America in 1998, killing nearly 11,000 people and leaving more than 8,000 missing, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua.

Bassi said nearly 180,000 antipersonnel mines were destroyed along with more than 2.3 million pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from the conflict.

The clearance cost about $82.2 million, with most of the funds coming from the Organization of American States, he said.

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